Russian Rights Activist Beaten in Latest Attack on Opposition Figures in Moscow

By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 2, 2009

MOSCOW, April 1 -- A prominent human rights activist and former member of the Russian parliament was beaten outside his home late Tuesday in the most recent in a series of attacks on opposition figures in Moscow.

Lev Ponomaryov, 67, leader of the organization For Human Rights, said he had just stepped out of his car when a stranger asked him to light a cigarette and someone else struck him on the head. He said he was knocked to the ground and kicked and beaten by two or three men until a doorman rescued him.

The assailants said nothing during the assault and made no attempt to rob him, Ponomaryov said by telephone after being released from a hospital Wednesday. "It was an ordered attack," he said. "It's connected with my human rights activities. I've been involved in a few sensitive issues lately."

A Soviet-era dissident who was elected to parliament in the early 1990s, Ponomaryov has worked to expose abuses in the Russian prison system, and he helped establish the Solidarity democratic opposition movement last year.

In recent weeks, he has been outspoken in his criticism of the government's prosecution of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed oil tycoon and Kremlin foe facing new charges in a second trial that opened Tuesday in Moscow. Ponomaryov said he had met with a European official about the case on the day of the assault.

Police said the attack was under investigation.

Amnesty International called on Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who was meeting with President Obama in London, to speak out "against the increasing climate of intolerance towards human rights defenders" in Russia.

"Far too many abuses against human rights and civil society activists, lawyers and journalists have gone unpunished, and perpetrators believe they can act with total impunity," Nicola Duckworth, the organization's Europe and Central Asia director, said in a statement. "The continuing silence in view of the many recent threats and attacks will be equivalent to condoning such crimes."

A colleague of Ponomaryov's, human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, was gunned down in January moments after stepping out of a news conference in Moscow. A student journalist, Anastasia Baburova, was also killed in the shooting. There have been no arrests in the case.

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